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Motivating Your Donors to Make Planned & Major Gifts - Three Case Studies to Consider

Have you wondered if there are better ways for you to motivate your donors and prospects?  What principles exist for motivating donors and prospects to close significant gifts – planned and major gifts?

Motivating donors for gifting can seem a mystery that needs unraveling. Perhaps we should be asking, “What has been proven to motivate donors to make planned and major gifts?”

For some answers, we turn to several studies published by nationally acclaimed leaders on this topic of motivating donors. Together we are going to explore three studies that address donor motivation.  First, one study’s principles on what motivates donors, next a study on what motivates planned gift donors and third, a study about what motivates major gift donors.

First study: What Motivates Donors?

As we delve into this motivational topic we turn to Gail Perry, MBA, CFRE, international consultant and speaker.  She shared “Five Strategies that Will Motivate Donors” on her website.

1. Without surprise, donor-centric conversations and marketing made the top of the list.  Gail affirms that “no matter how much we talk about using the word ‘you’ to create donor-centered fundraising,” she thinks “you can always do it better.”  The temptation is to talk about your organization’s amazing mission. But, with the “you-focus” practice and patience with yourself, you can sharpen this skill. You will make the donors feel closer to your mission and seeing themselves as part of your mission.

2. Quoting from Gail’s work: “There’s an old saying that ‘emotion drives action, while logic leads to conclusions.’”  Repeatedly you have experienced that a donor’s giving is an emotional decision. Building your donor relationships on their unique stories brings their big hearts into the giving picture.  You discover their own unique motives for prompting gifts for your mission. She states, “When you appeal to the donors’ emotions, you awaken their heart-felt internal story. And they are more generous.”

3. The credibility of your organization is critical.  Gail’s idea is to add credibility with colleague endorsements, donor testimonials or locally respected persons who may be your board members or volunteers.  She recommends adding on your website awards or certificates or even links to your annual report.  These help to lend credibility. Giving your donors more reassurance is an important objective.

4. Ms. Perry encourages us to ask ourselves this question, “Are your donors feeling forgotten, overlooked between asks?”  Part of stewarding is letting them know they are in your thoughts.  A contemporary strategy is sharing resourceful enewsletters – no solicitation! Enewsletters are budget-sensitive for your nonprofit.

5. Gail shares a great story about an organization that hosted a donor appreciation event prior to their annual appeal.  That donor “thank you event” resulted in a major gift even before the appeal went out.

Second study:  What Motivates Planned Gifts Donors?

The Giving USA Foundation’s book, Leaving a Legacy: A New Look at Planned Giving Donors includes donor survey results that relate to what motivates donors to make planned gifts.

One of the motivators is the importance of your nonprofit’s mission to each donor.  Does your mission significantly bring benefits? Does it make a difference?  Of course, this importance is in the eyes of the donors – their interests, experiences and objectives.  Is your organization’s mission a match for them?  Listening to them and building your relationships will lead to that discovery.

An additional survey result from the Foundation leads us to ask ourselves, “Does the donor believe that your nonprofit is making a significant impact?”  This belief goes beyond your mission statement.  This belief is in your actions and making a profound difference.  It may be helpful to share stories of results and your mission “in action” affirm the donor’s belief in what you have accomplished and will accomplish.  The donor wants to become a part of something bigger than themselves.  They come to the realization that what your organization is doing is impactful and they want to become a partner.

A third point from the Foundation’s study is that bequests are an attainable major gift for everyone.  Our middle class donors in most cases need their liquid assets for their lifestyle, not allowing big gifts to make a difference for charity missions now.  With the reality that when we graduate from this life, we are not taking any of our assets with us, an estate gift is the perfect solution.  It may not be possible during a donor’s lifetime to make the big gifts, but planning gifts before “graduation” will be the ideal timing.

Third study:  What Motivates Major Donors?

Kay Sprinkel Grace, philanthropy consultant and author, in an excerpt entitled “Understanding the Motivations of Major Donors” from her book Over Goal! What You Must Know to Excel at Fundraising Today she shared relevant insights on the top motivations for donors to make major gifts.

She reminds that “the only truly reliable resource” for a donor’s motivation is the donor!  She encourages, “Get to know your major prospects and donors. More importantly, get to know as many of your donors—major or not—as you can.”  As your relationships unfold, they will give you their motivational clues, their motivations that match your nonprofit’s mission.

She emphasizes the importance of stewardship.  She defines stewardship as the ongoing relationship with a donor and posits that it may be the most important function in fundraising. Stewardship should happen both prior to the major gift and following the major gift.  Advancing your connection with the donor, keeping it vital and relevant to each donor is an ongoing challenge.

Next, Ms. Grace shares that involving a volunteer who is passionate about your charity’s mission and willing to meet with a potential donor is priceless. This colleague relationship leading to the ask conversation “continues to be the most effective, and the most motivating, in major gifts programs.”  Have you considered using this strategy to involve a dedicated volunteer?

In her study, Ms. Grace asserts that the motivated donors will “self-solicit.”  The donors’ self-soliciting begins with questions to themselves like, “How do I fit in with this mission?  How will I be able to make a difference?”  Ms. Grace’s study states, “When the environment is established in which a prospective donor’s motivations can flourish, and when the prospect is connected with volunteers who themselves are motivated and share the prospect’s values, the prospect begins to self-solicit.” Your donors then can begin to see themselves making a difference with your mission. When they are asked, they are ready … with excitement!

As a philanthropy leader, what a privileged position you enjoy stewarding your donors and providing for your nonprofit’s amazing mission!  Feel free to contact us at Crescendo to share ways you motivate your donors and discuss best practices. Contact us today at 800-858-9154 or giftlegacy@cresmail.com!






Sandra Henningsen

By Sandra Henningsen
Assistant Vice President, Integrated Marketing, Crescendo Interactive, Inc.

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